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Great time for bass

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These days, nearly every bass angler you talk to agrees that the tidal Potomac River's bass fishing has been nothing short of outstanding.

The largemouth bass more often than not weigh around two pounds, but some whoppers are taken now and then, and this year they are not very picky about the types of lures they will attack. A bass boat-owning fishing pal from La Plata said he's taking his wife onto the river Thursday morning to show her how to catch and release a bunch of largemouths.

"We'll only use topwater poppers, and she'll get the hang of it. She'll hook a couple dozen before 11 a.m.," he said.

That's showing plenty of confidence. However, the main stem and feeder creeks anywhere from below Wilson Bridge south to Charles County can deliver the goods.

Cast your topwater lures, including dish-faced poppers, buzzbaits and grass "rats," along the edges of spatterdock and milfoil beds or across the green vegetation. If the tide is dropping, the fish will do the rest. When the sun begins to "cook" the water, think of using grubs, jigs, finesse worms and maybe even a short-lipped crankbait if there's enough open water. Target shallow marsh edges in creeks, the main stem and wood-filled banks, and if there's a good dropoff, pull your soft plastic baits down into deeper water.

Something will happen, I promise you.

Jason Berry of Nanjemoy, Md., proved as much Saturday when he won the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League Northeast Division tournament on the Potomac River. He was allowed to weigh in only five bass, but they weighed 18 pounds, 2 ounces - good enough for a $4,076 prize plus a $719 Ranger Boats contingency bonus.

Hardhead catches improving - Good news for croaker fishermen. The hardheads, as Bay Country natives call them, are in the lower Potomac and Patuxent rivers in greatly improved numbers.

Pete Malnati, who fished with friends just south of the Potomac's Swan Point this week, had no trouble finding croakers on bottom-fished shrimp baits.

"They didn't like our squid this time," he said.

The Potomac's hardheads also were found at Piney Point and off St. George's Island, with additional reports coming from the Bushwood area of the Wicomico River.

Now comes Ken Lamb of the Tackle Box in St. Mary's County's Lexington Park, who says, "Shore fishermen at Greenwell State Park in the Patuxent River reported catching croakers two at a time off park pier this week. The croakers were hitting bloodworms and squid at dusk."

Lamb also said the Patuxent has been productive at the Hawk's Nest near the entrance to Cuckold's Creek.

"There are plenty of white perch there, too, and some [Norfolk] spot are showing up," he said.

The Drum Point area of the Patuxent has seen spot catches, with persistent rumors of flounder coming from the Solomons Bridge pilings.

Elsewhere in the Bay area, the croaker have not been nearly as reliable as those in Southern Maryland, but some have been hooked in the Choptank River mouth and off Matapeake Pier on Kent Island. One caller said he caught a few chunky hardheads on the deep side of the Thomas Point lighthouse, south of the Bay Bridge.

What about the rockfish? - Rockfish are breaking in the mouth of the Patuxent, Little Cove Point and above the Gas Docks, Lamb said, and anglers out on the Bay find stripers while trolling or simply casting or jigging lures. Check out the Targets, Point No Point, Point Lookout, the eastern side of the Bay's channel and northward to the Gooses, Poplar Island, Eastern Bay, Gum Thickets and up toward the Chester River. Expect occasional strikes from bluefish that roam about in the same areas. Some black drum might bite at Stone Rock and the Sharps Island area, but don't be surprised if they suffer from lockjaw.

Occoquan Reservoir bass are willing - Ranger Smokey Davis said, "The father-son team of Roger and Tyler Sparks of Woodbridge won last weekend's Fountainhead Bass Club tournament with a six-fish limit that weighed 19.7 pounds. They found postspawn bass on Carolina-rigged soft plastics off points and in the mouths of deep coves. The biggest bass in the tournament weighed 5.1 pounds. The hot weather has improved the catfish bite, with chicken livers or cut bait being the bait of choice."

Shenandoah smallmouths biting - Dick Fox reports that the fishing on the Shenandoah River, near his Front Royal home, has been fantastic.

"There are many small fish from last years spawn, but some quality fish are mixed in," he said. "Senko-type baits and grubs are best. Topwater lures do well in low light."

cLook for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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